Same kanji readings in first three levels

I’m noticing quite a number of duplicate readings of kanji:

ひ: sun, fire, pull
こう: construction, mouth, public
ゆう: street, evening, right, friend
し: child, four, stop, city
たい: fat, big

Most of them are not really related. Maybe fire/sun and fat/big, but otherwise not really…

I have two questions:

  1. Is there some underlying mechanism why this is so, or is it coincidence?
  2. Will this continue into later levels?

Just from a combinatorial standpoint, having 46 hiragana and 1-4 syllables per kanji, you would say that enough unique combinations can be made to serve the ~2000 kanji. Or am I looking at this with the wrong cold analytical mathematical view? Genuinely just curious why this is.

As an aside: prior to starting to learn kanji, I sort of expected the them to be much more information-dense, expecting each to comprise much more syllables than they do. Like each kanji is a mini-sentence or something, idk. For me this is one of the eye openers that a complicated 20-stroke kanji like 騰 is “just, or only” とう / のぼる


You’re aware that kanji are borrowed from Chinese, yes? Chinese has (and had, at the time of bringing them into Japanese) tones. This means you could have two things that sound like こう, after you filtered them through the Japanese pronunciation scheme, which didn’t actually sound identical in the original Chinese.

This means that, yes, there are often many kanji with what are now identical readings in Japanese.

But because most words that use Chinese readings are a combination of multiple characters, you aren’t often going to be asked to pick one reading out with no context and understand what it means.

こう is never used on its own as a word meaning construction, mouth, or public.

Even when words are identical in pronunciation, like 人口 (じんこう, population) and 人工 (じんこう, artificial), the fact that they are different parts of speech means you’re almost always going to be able to tell them apart in spoken language.

Most kanji are composed of one element that provides a clue to which category the meaning falls under, and then the other element lets you know how to pronounce it.

騰 originally meant “gallop”, which is why it contains 馬, and then it was combined with 朕, which provided the pronunciation. Over time, both the meaning and pronunciation shifted, so it means “rise” and has the reading of とう. But it was originally “the character related to 馬 that is read like 朕” so that’s why it’s both “simple” and “complex.”

These are actually all Japanese (kun) readings, but they don’t sound identical in Japanese. The words for sun and fire, while both being comprised of just ひ, are pronounced differently in actually sentences. Japanese has something called pitch accent, rather than the stress accent of English, where (to simplify things) each syllable is either low or high. If a word only has one syllable, like these, they are often distinguished by how the pitch changes when it connects to a particle, which assigns the word some kind of grammatical role in the sentence.

So, take these two sentences.

The sun comes out

Fire comes out (or idiomatically, someone is embarrassed)

These wouldn’t be pronounced the same. The first sentence would be low, high, high, low, and the second sentence would be high, low, low, low.

Don’t worry if you don’t really know what that means… just suffice it to say, there’s more going on than just the readings when you pronounce things.

Lastly, pull is only ひ in the word ひく, it wouldn’t be ひ on its own.


Thank you for that extensive explanation. It makes a lot of sense, with so much I did not know.


No problem. Taking a second to explain that stuff reminds me why I enjoy studying Japanese, even though at this point it is all kind of just things I take for granted. It’s a pretty fascinating language (though I suppose all languages have their own interesting parts).


A friend of mine I always so “disappointed” and wonders why they bother with so many strokes for just one syllable.

Btw, when Japanese people take notes by hand. Do they omit complex Kanji? I’d guess they do? :thinking:

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Most things can be written in just kana and still be understood with context.

They also sometimes use what are called 略字 (りゃくじ) so instead of writing 魔 with all that inside, you could just write 广 with マ inside it to represent the reading.